The quarterback carousel continues to rotate in Duval county. They've had some unfortunate injury situations, to be sure. Even more so, however, inconsistent play has plagued the Jaguars at the most critical position in football for much of the last two decades.
Jaguars' head coach Doug Marrone handed second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew the keys to the car this offseason. Early returns suggested that with Minshew under center, the Jaguars' offense could resemble a high-powered sports car. But since week three, the Jaguars' aerial attack has looked more like a run down Pinto than a Ferrari or Lamborghini. Last week we learned that Minshew had been silently battling through a thumb injury on his throwing hand since an October 11th loss to the Texans. Minshew failed to alert the coaching staff to the pain he was suffering until after their most recent loss against the Chargers. X-rays revealed that Minshew had multiple fractures in his throwing hand and strained ligaments.
With Minshew on the mend, the Jags are tossing the keys to Jake Luton, who, similarly to Minshew in 2019, is a sixth-round rookie from the Pac-12. On Wednesday, Luton spoke to the media for the first time since being drafted. He echoed a familiar refrain, heard from most young players getting their first opportunity to start. "I don't know if I can make another parallel, said Luton. "As a kid, I wanted to do this my whole life. I dreamed of playing in the NFL, and getting that opportunity to step out there will definitely be a dream come true. I don't know that I could really compare it to anything I've experienced thus far."
While Luton's current situation resembles what Minshew went through last season, circumstances might be even more difficult for Luton than Minshew. When Minshew entered the starting lineup after Nick Foles went down with an injury in week one, he had at least taken live snaps in the preseason, an experience not afforded to Luton in this COVID-19 world. Luton hasn't called a play in the Jaguars' offense since before the start of the regular season, and he's never done it in a genuinely live setting.
But Jake Luton has faced more formidable odds throughout his career, and he's overcome them each time. Coming out of high-school, his first stop was the University of Idaho, where Luton played sparingly as a freshman and ultimately redshirted. Heading into his sophomore year, it seemed unlikely that Luton would supplant the incumbent starter, so he decided to transfer.
Despite possessing ideal size and arm strength, his best option was to continue his college career at Ventura Community College. The 6'6", 240-pound quarterback shined in his lone year at the JUCO level, shredding the competition on his way to 3,551 passing yards and 40 touchdowns.
Luton then transferred to Oregon State, where he won the starting job in his first year at Corvallis. Just four games into his first season as a starting quarterback at a Power-Five program, he suffered the biggest blow of his career. Luton was rolling out, and then it all went blank. He came to as he was lying on the ground motionless, unable to move his arms or legs. At that moment, Luton didn't know if he would walk again, much less play football. Fortunately for Jake Luton and Oregon State, the injury wound up being much less severe than it initially looked. He would miss the rest of the season with a thoracic spine fracture. After rehabbing and battling back, Luton was able to start for the Beavers in 2018, but he suffered a concussion five plays into the season opener at Ohio State. Two weeks later, he led the Beavs in a come from behind win against Nevada, only to sustain an ankle sprain that would keep him out the next four weeks.
After battling through injuries and other setbacks throughout his college career, Jake Luton put it all together in 2019, throwing for 2,714 yards, 28 touchdown passes, and just three interceptions while completing 62% of his passes. Having only one full season of tape against high-level competition, Luton fell to the sixth round in the draft.
Jake Luton and Gardner Minshew may have had somewhat similar roads to the NFL, but their playing style and skill set could not be more different. Minshew is a guy that thrives in the chaos. He's undersized and is able to use his instincts and craftiness to escape pressure and make plays down the field. On the other hand, Luton is more of your prototypical QB with his size and arm strength. He's not overly mobile, but he can move around a little bit.
Now, the 24-year-old rookie is set to take his first snap as a pro as the Jaguars host the Texans in week nine. While he hasn't taken a live snap in an NFL game, Jake Luton feels ready. "I think playing the quarterback position, I think you have to be pretty even-keeled," said Luton. "It's what I pride myself in is just being composed at all times. I think that's something the team really looks to and guys really respect. I just try to approach it day in and day out as a first-year guy coming in and preparing like I'm going to play and whether I am or not, I'm going to prepare that way so when my time comes, I'll be ready."
If Luton is indeed ready for the pressure that he'll face, both mentally and physically, he could inject life back into a Jaguars' team that has lost six straight games. It'll be a tough task against a Texans' defensive front that generally dominates the Jaguars' offensive line.
"Like I said, he (Luton) can throw the deep ball, the intermediate stuff, he can throw with touch," said Jaguars' offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. "But on game day with J.J. Watt and Mercilus and these guys chasing after him, we'll see if that has any impact on his motion."
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